Friday, 1 April 2016
Joan Carries On ... as Chloe Gibson
This blog is part of a new regular series on Carry On Blogging. I'm going to attempt to blog about each of Joan Sims' wonderful roles in the Carry On films. Joan was the most prolific of all the actresses involved in the series, clocking up 24 films. Indeed, only Kenneth Williams made more Carry Ons.
Today I am going to continue this series by looking at Joan's performance in that medical classic, 1967's Carry On Doctor. Doctor is such a classic Carry On, crammed full of regular team members and with a guest starring turn from Frankie Howerd, that is almost too easy to overlook Joan's performance as the mousy, hard of hearing Chloe Gibson. As with her previous performance in Follow That Camel, Joan's role is not a large one with the likes of Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques carrying the film. As I mentioned in my review of Joan's contribution to Follow That Camel, the role of Chloe could not be in greater contrast to that of the voluptuous, sultry Zig Zig.
Carry On Doctor boasts one of the finest Carry On casts ever assembled. Kenneth Williams, Hattie Jacques, Frankie Howerd and Jim Dale are the main leads in the film but there are also delightful supporting turns from the likes of Bernard Bresslaw, Peter Butterworth, Barbara Windsor, Dilys Laye, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey and Anita Harris. There are also wonderful cameos from Deryck Guyler, Peter Jones and Dandy Nichols. What a cast!
Originally Joan was invited to play the pivotal role of Matron in the film. After all Hattie Jacques had not appeared in a Carry On since Cabby, released four years previously. Joan had also just played Matron in the latest Doctor film, Doctor in Clover, so you can see where the casting decision came from. Allegedly Joan turned down the part, claiming that only her friend Hattie could play Matron in a Carry On, so Jacques was reintroduced to the films and appeared regularly from that point on until her departure in 1974. I think this demonstrates just how close these actresses were.
Chloe Gibson is Frankie's hard of hearing but loyal and devoted assistant. Frankie plays bogus faith healer Francis Bigger who ends up in hospital with a dodgy coccyx. Chloe is a frequent visitor to Bigger's bedside, often getting teary and quietly misunderstanding various comic situations. Frankie's character is obviously fond of her but he also gets regularly exasperated as only Frankie could! Joan and Frankie are superb in their scenes together and this film saw the beginning of a legend. Apparently the actors could barely look at each other without bursting into fits of giggles. This trend would continue when the pair worked together again on Up The Jungle two years later. Some footage remains from a BBC Film Night special which shows Joan and Frankie corpsing during a scene. Wonderful stuff.
The highlight of Joan's role in Doctor comes when Francis and Chloe get married in his private hospital room. Believing he only has days to live, Francis proposes to Chloe out of loyalty. Of course there is nothing wrong with Francis and the whole thing turns into a nightmare as his new bride turns into a dominating shrew! The wedding scene is an absolute delight. Anita Harris' Nurse Clarke and Bernard Bresslaw's Ken Biddle are the witnesses and Peter Jones pops up for a cameo as the equally deaf hospital Chaplain. The scene is hilarious as the wedding vows get louder and louder, attracting attention from many of the other hospital visitors and staff. I should imagine the scene took several takes given the participants!
The end of the film sees Francis discharged from hospital as Chloe escorts him off the premises with threats of a "nice little flat in Eastbourne"! Clearly not smitten with the idea, Francis stages a fall off screen and is quickly stretchered back in to the hospital allowing Frankie Howerd a wonderful wink directly into the camera to end the film.
Another small role for Joan but as always, beautifully played and her timing and chemistry with Frankie Howerd raise this performance up into a different league. Lovely stuff.